Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
129 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +
Audiences that were alternately amused, thrilled, and exhausted by Guy Ritchie's revisionist take on Arthur Conan Doyle's forensic sleuth in 2009's empty but slickly enjoyable "Sherlock Holmes" will flock to see the sequel regardless. One reason might be that it's a Guy Ritchie movie. Others will despise it for the same reason: it's a Guy Ritchie movie. His hyperkinetic, look-at-me directorial style (whooshing quick-cuts, slo-mo, etc.) has become his trademark, but it's just flash overkill in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
Set in 1891, Victorian England, France and Germany has been experiencing a series of bombings and assassinations. Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has his suspicions that University professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) is the culprit behind the attacks. While Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is celebrating his own stag party before tying the knot with Mary (Kelly Reilly), Holmes comes across a gypsy fortune-teller named Simza (Noomi Rapace), who's targeted by Moriarty and his extreme anarchists, one of whom is her brother.
Downey's playing of Holmes as an idiosyncratic scamp is still very amusing, and his wisecrack exchanging with Law's Watson has that same playfulness. Their quasi-homoerotic bromance is held over from the first movie; this time, they share a ballroom dance in one scene. A nice addition is Stephen Fry, a daffy delight as Holmes' daffy brother Mycroft. But maybe next time, he can do more than walk around naked. Noomi Rapace, star of the Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its sequels, is such an interesting presence that it's baffling why she's given nothing interesting to do or say. Since Rachel McAdams (as Holmes' duplicitous former flame Irene) is dispensed with early on, Rapace is brought on to be the new heroine, but she's mostly directed to react and clomp about with Holmes and Watson.
Director Ritchie gives us more of Holmes' cerebral strategy of logically reasoning out his fisticuffs bit by bit before they actually happen. The clever gimmick worked in the first movie and it works a few of the times here, but after that, it's used ad nauseam to the point of putting a wrench in the pacing and narrative. It's as if Ritchie emptied his bag of tricks and resorted to just showing off. The few standout sequences include a shootout on a train and a chase in a forest, stylized like a slo-mo painting rather than an action scene; it's nifty but the novelty wears off fast. The best moment comes early and in quiet volume, when Irene (McAdams) has a clandestine meeting with Moriarty over tea, and it's crafted with more care and tension than the proceedings.
Though the screenplay here is only constructed by spousal writing team Michele and Kieran Mulroney (as opposed to the first's design-by-committee hodgepodge), the cloak-and-dagger plot that supposedly prompts the subtitle, "A Game of Shadows," isn't worth solving. It's too convoluted and filled with more incidents than suspense. Holmes (read: the screenwriters) pulls so many clues out of nowhere that some deductive reasoning might've actually helped. Moriarty had potential to be an interesting villain, but he's just a garden-variety anarchist with greed issues.
On a purely technical level, "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" is another fine showcase of impeccable period decor and production design that impresses with its London-cobblestone detail. Philippe Rousselot's atmospheric cinematography and Hans Zimmer's Holmes-y instrumental score are professionally done. It's just a shame money can't buy a less mechanical screenplay because this second "Sherlock Holmes" is an airless, bombastic blur.